Guilty By Associates

One of the weirdest things I've read in a while is this Norm Ornstein "diarist" column in TNR. He starts out by observing that, recently, he sees his name pop up now and again on lists of deranged neoconservatives who are destroying the country. He points out that this is wrong -- anyone who knows his work knows that he's a very smart guy of seemingly moderate views, deeply committed to procedural integrity and good government. That said, it's obvious why people might make this mistake: He works for the American Enterprise Institute, an outfit that's full of lunatics.

Where it gets weird, is that instead of complaining that guys like Kevin Hassett and John Lott and Michael Rubin and Michael Ledeen are starting to ruin his good name he complains that liberal bloggers don't realize how awesomely moderate AEI is and suggests at one point that people who confuse his views with those of his colleagues are anti-semites.

To all this I say, basically, what Mark Schmitt said:

So as an abstract principle, I agree with Steve that Norm Ornstein and others of independence and integrity at AEI (some would name welfare scholar Doug Besharov as another example) bear no responsibility for the views or activities of their neoconservative or fraudulent (e.g., Lott) colleagues, any more than I am responsible for Steve’s views (such as his curious gullibility to Hillary Clinton fundraising letters), or someone on the Harvard faculty is responsible for, say, Harvey Mansfield’s views. However, Harvard is an institution with a purpose – education and scholarship – and AEI is an institution with a different purpose. At one time, AEI’s purpose was honest analysis of policy from a broadly heterodox conservative perspective; over time its purpose has been moving in the direction of reinforcing the interests of its donors and of the conservative power structure, right or wrong. At some point, the sheer number of Lotts and Hassetts, the more explicitly political purpose, and the the large-scale deception perpetrated by Ledeen and the AEI neo-cons becomes the essence and purpose of the organization.

I mean, there's an obvious solution to Ornstein's problem: Quit AEI, say he's quitting AEI because he doesn't want to be associated with these charlatans, and get a job elsewhere. He's one of the best-respected people in Washington, I'm sure he could get a new one. Having good people at bad institutions just makes it harder to marginalize the lunatics in the way they ought to be marginalized.